By Amon Baita
A domestic worker (call it housemaid) earns an average of Shs100, 000 per month in Uganda. This means that the person earns a paltry Shs1.2m in a year despite the many needs to spend on.
On the contrary, the same worker in the Middle East countries earns an average of Shs900, 000 per month, implying that the person will bag about Shs10.8m (Ten million two hundred thousand shillings) in a year.
The wage disparity between the two countries is quite huge.
But a worker in the Middle East is entitled to other benefits as provided under the law that include free accommodation, free food, medical insurance and bonuses. When these benefits are converted into monetary terms, it’s clear the employer in Middle East countries spends so much on a domestic worker compared to Uganda.
The availability of opportunities to work as a domestic worker in Middle East countries has transformed lives of many Ugandans who had no hope of getting out of their miserable poor conditions.
They are now able to save, invest in businesses and acquire property.
Many of these are not so much educated; you just need to communicate in English and ready to work to get the job.
Factors pushing Ugandans to go work as domestic workers include poverty of the households, early pregnancies and broken families.
Domestic workers are approximately 30% of all migrant employees in the Middle East.
Uganda Association for External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA) is doing a great job to ensure domestic workers from Uganda are treated well and work under better conditions.
UAERA’s cardinal objective is to keep/ get these youths off the streets, train and put them into productive employment through which they are able to contribute to nation building and development.
Given the high unemployment levels in Uganda, it is justifiable for Ugandans to seek for greener pastures abroad.
What is important now is government to join UAERA in streamlining the externalization of labour.
Research shows that countries that have imposed restrictions on the movement of migrant workers have ended up with more of their people being trafficked and ending up in miserable situations.
It is good news that Uganda has already signed two bilateral labour agreements; with The Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Between Jan-2016 and Jul 2017, Uganda imposed a ban on externalization of domestic workers due to many reported cases in social and mainstream media of mistreatment of Ugandan girls in the host countries especially Saudi Arabia.
However, during the same period, 30,000 (Thirty thousand) Ugandan ladies were either trafficked or left on their own to Oman and other destinations.
Currently, Oman is not an authorized destination of Uganda female domestic workers. Ugandan male workers and female professionals are permitted to work anywhere in the world as long as there is proof of availability of genuine employment.
The other countries in the Middle East have also strengthened their labour laws for protection of the workers’ human rights.
These measures have in turn tremendously improved the conditions of migrant workers.
Opinion leaders like politicians, religious leaders, civil society and the general public ought to know that there’s a distinction between safe labour migration and trafficking of persons.
Trafficked people carry the risk of going to the unknown destinations and therefore end up mistreated, tortured and dead in some cases.
That’s why UAERA and government are emphasizing that Ugandans seeking jobs abroad should travel through genuine licensed companies.
Ugandans who go through members companies of UAERA are captured in the digitalized system, monitored and protected.
The government of Uganda through the Ministry of Labor and Social Development has led to the introduction of digitization that has revolutionized the processes of recruitment and monitoring of workers from Uganda in the destination countries.
Regulation and continued guidance about the industry and establishment of a labor liaison office is also a step in the right direction in as far as streamlining externalization of labour is concerned.
Mosaned, an online monitoring system that is used to manage the recruitment process was introduced as well as a four party standard employment contract which is signed by employer, employee, Source Company and Destination Company.
The labor dispute and settlement centers have also been established in several cities of Saudi Arabia manned by judges but also hefty penalties for employers who violate employees’ human rights have been put in place.
Government has also established a human rights department at the domestic center of the ministry of labor boosted by establishment of call centers to respond to labor complaints.
Establishment of Reception centers with medical facilities in major cities to cater for workers who may be distressed, stranded or unwell are also in place.
It’s also compulsory for a domestic worker to be provided with a mobile phones so that they can easily and freely communicate with their people back home.
Termination of the contract is also acceptable in case either party is not satisfied with the terms and conditions of the contract.
Lastly, there is provision of return air tickets by the government of Saudi Arabia to returning workers who may find challenges and are compelled to leave the country as well as compulsory opening of bank accounts for all migrant workers and payment of wages through the banks.
Challenges to the Industry
These are youth who venture on their own to find jobs abroad. They travel on tourists /Visit visas and many of them fail to get the jobs before the expiry of their visas.
Others run out of money and get stranded, send messages on social media about torture and cause public anxiety.
Due to lack of information about formal channels of getting employment abroad, many youths are lured by human traffickers , who smuggle the victims and end up in difficult situations in countries of destination.
As a result of human trafficking and adventurism, the media portrays labor externalization as risky, dangerous and fake.
UAERA has strengthened the secretariat to sensitize the public about the externalization of labor; it is safe and paying if one goes through licensed companies.